Much like the rest of the country, each of the U.S. military’s service academies has had to make unusual adaptations to longstanding traditions in an effort to stifle the spread of COVID-19.
A time typically reserved for families and personnel to celebrate an influx of new officers has instead centered on social distancing and other measures to ensure individual safety.
The U.S. Naval Academy followed suit Wednesday by announcing that midshipmen in the Class of 2020 would be invited to return to the Annapolis, Maryland, campus to take part in a commissioning event, albeit in a non-traditional format.
Commissioning events will be held in “the Yard” for five separate groups over a 10-day period, spokeswoman Cmdr. Alana Garas told Navy Times.
Each group will consist of about 210 midshipmen who will be on campus for a two-day period, the first of which will begin May 11, Garas said.
For each cohort, the first day will be devoted to finalizing administrative processing and moving personal belonging. The second day, meanwhile, will be for the private commissioning event. Commissioning of each of the five groups will be filmed and streamed online on May 22 in a virtual ceremony.
A half-day gap between the departure and arrival of each group will be implemented so that academy staff can re-sanitize Bancroft Hall, Garas said.
The graduating mids have been off campus since March 6, when the academy dismissed its brigade of approximately 4,000 for spring break. Virtual courses were initiated on March 20.
Academy officials announced earlier this month that all of this year’s traditional Commissioning Week events had been canceled amid concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck, however, promised “to exhaust all efforts in our decision-making and planning process to make this special for them, within the guidelines we’re operating under.”
“I believe we owe it to them,” Buck said.
The modification to commissioning events marks the first major adjustment to the academy’s ceremonies in nearly a century.
“There are certain rites of passage unique to the Naval Academy that every graduate reflects positively upon and thus helps to define and strengthen the Naval Academy experience,” Commandant of Midshipmen Capt. T.R. Buchanan said. “Even if not held this May, our midshipmen still deserve the opportunity to enjoy those milestone events.”
The academy’s elaborate cohort-based plan will allow each graduating midshipman to take the oath of office in uniform.
Graduation ceremony measures taken by Naval Academy officials are similar to those instituted by leadership at both the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Coast Guard Academy.
Officials at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduated the nearly 1,000-strong cadet Class of 2020 on April 18 — about a month ahead of the originally planned May 28 graduation date at Falcon Stadium. The scaled-down commencement was held in the center of the Colorado Springs campus, with uniformed cadets donning face masks and marching in formations spaced 6 feet apart.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy, meanwhile, plans on hosting a virtual graduation ceremony on May 20. The virtual graduation will mark the commissioning of the largest graduating class in the academy’s entire 144-year history, Coast Guard officials said. Of the 258 graduating cadets, 102 are women — another academy record.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.